Donald Trump unveiled a new “America First” national security strategy that promised to prioritise US economic interests and named China and Russia as “competition” that threaten to harm the country’s security.
The Trump administration unveiled its national security strategy on Monday, vowing to put the interests of American citizens first on a range of issues, including “combatting terrorism”, increasing border control, enforcing strict immigration policies, and promoting the US economy.
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“The first duty of our government is to serve our citizens, many of whom have been forgotten. But they are not forgotten any more. With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first,” Trump said in a televised address.
The economy figures largely in the Trump strategy document, which states that economic prosperity must be considered “a pillar of national security” and calls for lifting regulations that restrain energy development.
The Trump strategy document pledged to “pursue peace through strength”.
It named three principal “challengers” to this goal: “the revisionist powers of China and Russia, the rogue states of Iran and North Korea, and transnational threat organisations, particularly jihadist terrorist groups”.
Trump said the US has dealt the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “one defeat after another” – and reclaimed “almost 100 percent” of the territory the group once held in Iraq and Syria.
On the threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Trump vowed: “It will be taken care of. We have no choice.”
China and Russia
The president’s strategy explicitly named China and Russia as “competition” that seek to “challenge American power, influence, and interests” and attempt “to erode American security and prosperity”.
While the US will seek opportunities for cooperation with its rivals, “we will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before”, Trump said in his address.
“America is in the game and America is going to win,” he said.
Speaking before the strategy was officially released, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it hoped the document would “play a constructive role to promote world peace and stability and contribute to Chinese-US strategic mutual trust in ensuring world peace and security”, the Associated Press reported.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, said Trump identifying China and Russia was almost like “returning to a Cold War mentality”.
Halkett called Trump’s speech as “a rambling and disjointed address” that was “thin on details”.
“It was a speech further highlighting one of the Trump administration’s biggest struggles since taking office: cohesion and foreign policy success,” said Halkett.
“It’s a challenge that appears likely to continue, given the divergent positions of the president’s national security plan.”
‘War over diplomacy’
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, said US national security has not been enhanced under the Trump administration.
“I think that this notion of ‘America First’ has been translated in the Trump era to a very direct choice of war over diplomacy. I think what we’re seeing now … is a renewed focus on defining strategic competitors – particularly Russia and China – in the context of exerting domination over them,” Bennis told Al Jazeera.
“This is not about protection of people in the US; this is about using economic power really as part of a war strategy,” she said.
Tarun Chhabra, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, said “competition is the main theme” of the president’s strategy.
While the Obama administration referred to China both in terms of competition and cooperation with the US, “here the emphasis really just is on competition, with cooperation as a footnote”, Chhabra said.
According to Chhabra, “there seems to be a big disconnect with [Trump’s] aspirations … about a relationship with Russia … and the stark terms in the national security strategy” that refer to Russia as a competitor.
The US will deepen its cooperation with European allies to “counter Russian subversion and aggression, and the threats posed by North Korea and Iran”, the security document stated.
In the Middle East, the US will promote a strong Gulf Cooperation Council; deny Iran “all paths to a nuclear weapon”; and it “remains committed” to facilitating a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump also dropped climate change from the list of national security threats, after it was first designated as such by Obama in 2015.
“Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” the Obama strategy read at the time.
Instead, the Trump document talks about embracing “energy dominance” and allowing energy sources, including coal and natural gas, to stimulate the US economy and promote competitiveness.
“US leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to US economic and energy security interests,” the document states.
According to John Coequyt, director of the Global Climate Policy at the Sierra Club, an environmental group, Trump’s decision to remove climate change from the list indicates “the president is not willing to acknowledge what the entire world understands to be true”.
“I think what this shows is that the president is willing to put his head in the sand and issue documents that try to pretend that this (climate change) isn’t a challenge for the world. It is and every other head of state in the world has recognised that,” Coequyt told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview.
The Pentagon has designated climate change as having an impact on national security for more than a decade, since the George W Bush administration, he explained.
Coequyt said it will in all likelihood continue to do so despite Trump’s decision.
Climate change has “been something that the military has been concerned about for a long time”, he said.
“I think the message is that the president will not ever acknowledge the threat of climate change in any forum and he’s willing to even remove it from something as important as our national security strategy.”
The president is mandated by a 1986 US congressional measure to unveil a national security strategy. The first strategy was issued in 1987 by the Ronald Reagan administration.